Supercomputer set to launch on space station mission

Alain Brian
Août 12, 2017

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. will carry a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. computing system that is created to last longer and may help pave the way for extended periods of space travel, such as the journey to Mars.

A supercomputer built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise will be on board a SpaceX spacecraft when it launches on a resupply mission to the International Space Station Monday.

The year time frame of the test represents how long it would get a craft to reach Mars, where a crew would need to rely on a computer giving immediate feedback rather than relaying things back and forth to ground control.

The Spaceborne Computer will be in the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft that is scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center on August 14.

The computer harnesses HPE Apollo 40 class computer systems with a high performance computing interconnect running a Linux operating system. "Mars astronauts won't have near-instant access to high performance computing like those in low-earth orbit do".

"Such a long communication lag would make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially unsafe if astronauts are met with any mission critical scenarios that they're not able to solve themselves", Alain Andreoli, SVP and GM of HPE's data center infrastructure group, wrote in a blog post. "A mission to Mars will require sophisticated onboard computing resources that are capable of extended periods of uptime". The Spaceborne Computer aims to ensure that astronauts will have sufficient tech firepower and robust communication links when they eventually journey to Mars.

A high-performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer system has never run in space before. NASA typically only approves computers for space once they've been "ruggedized" to withstand variables like radiation, solar flares, micrometeoroids, unstable electrical power and irregular cooling.

However, instead of adding costly and bulky hardware modifications, HPE "hardened" the systems with purpose-built software. The system does also include a unique water-cooled enclosure for the hardware.

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